The sky was filled with black clouds, swirling, brooding, casting crooked shadows on the ground, just like the day it happened. It was a month ago. Who would have thought a month would make such a difference to the way someone views the world?
‘I’m trying to hold on for one more day,’ Cecile said over coffee.’ Just one, but it is a disappointment to wake up in the morning. I hate to say that. I hate to sound ungrateful for this life I’ve been given but every night before I go to bed I pray I won’t wake up in the morning.’
I eat the froth from my latte. It lodges in the back of my throat, inedible as plastic, making me cough. Last month Cecile found out she was pregnant. She has been seeing this guy Alfie and I know for about 18 months and at 40, had given up thinking she would ever have a child. Then it happened.
She was delighted. Max wasn’t.
Max has a child from a previous marriage. The divorce was acrimonious. The custody battle was bloody, gut-wrenching. He vowed never to have any more children. Trouble was, he forgot to tell Cecile that.
Max suggested Cecile have an abortion. Strongly suggested. Cecile refused. Max cajoled. Strongly cajoled. Cecile refused. Max laid down an ultimatum coated in blood. Me or the child, painting their childless life together as one big happy ever after party. Cecile relented.
I saw her the day after she had the abortion. A month ago. A day like today. Glowering clouds congregating like soldiers from the afterlife threatening to reach down and pluck us mere humans from the ground and toy with us a bit before setting us free. A chill coming up from the Antarctic. A drab, dull, joyless day where hope seems buried.
She stood in the street like a wraith. Hunched into herself, waiting for ages on the side of the road. I feared she was about to step into the traffic so I ran across the road. She looked at me as if I was a stranger. She was carrying a paper bag full of apples. Red as the acrylic paint you buy in tubes from the craft store. There was a tear in the bag, near the seam and one by one the apples spilled out falling onto the road. I tried to gather them but they spun and twirled on the slick asphalt until they were crushed by oncoming cars. Cecile fell to her knees, weeping, crying over and over :’My apples. My apples.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘We’ll get you some more.’
‘There are no more,’ she said.
She told me then, clutching the empty paper bag, of her abortion.
‘It didn’t hurt,’ she said. Then walked away, slowly, like a much older lady, up the hill.
Now we are sitting, drinking coffee, talking of regret. Cecile is ashamed she wanted to keep her man more than she wanted to keep her child. She is ashamed she gave in so readily. She realises it may have been her last chance to become a mother. Max is sticking to his guns, telling her she did the right thing, telling her he loves her more than any other, but she is beginning to question a love that comes with such insurmountable conditions.
‘The first thing he said when I came out of the operating theatre was “Did you do it?” Not “Are you in pain?” or “Do you feel OK?” but “Did you get rid of it?” And when I said I had he looked relieved.’ Cecile is talking matter-of-factly, but she is stirring her coffee so frantically drops of it begin to spill all over the table. ‘I thought I wanted to have the abortion. I thought I could deal with it, but now I know I really didn’t want to. I wanted the baby. I wanted the little baby. And now it is gone for good. And when I wake up in the morning the first thing I think of is my baby is dead. And I turn and look at Max and wish it was him who had died instead.’
Cecile has quit her job. She is moving interstate to live with her mother. ‘When we were driving home from the hospital the silence between us was like a knife in my heart,’ she said. ‘I asked Max to turn on the radio and they were playing Mozart’s Requiem, the lacrimosa. Do you know what lacrimosa means?’
I know what it means. My sister wrote her University thesis on the Requiem. The lacrimosa is the most heart-wrenching part – it means the weeping. The first line is one I will never forget.
lacrimosa dies illa
which means , mournful that day. I can see the agony in Cecile’s eyes. Nothing I say will come out right. I know it. I am Pro-Choice. I mean, women should have the right to choose, shouldn’t they? But I know if it came right down to it, I could never take the life of my own child. Not ever. No matter what I say I will sound judgemental at worst, incredulous at best.
Cecile shrugs. Her coffee has grown cold. ‘My life used to be green,’ she said. ‘Now it is ash.’
She walks out to the street. Her car is parked there. The back seat is full of suitcases. ‘You’re really leaving then?’ I ask. Cecile nods, starts the engine and drives off. Very soon she is at the end of the road. She doesn’t wave or look back.